It was a great chance to catch chef Jeffrey Saad in action. He was showing a new employee how to cut the fruit for their special sangria in just the right way so that the fruit absorbs the alcohol it is soaked in and it doesn't get mushy.
(See the video here for a sneak peek at his secrets.)
Saad is planning a big Cinco de Mayo celebration for his Mexican restaurant La Ventura on Studio City's Restaurant Row on Ventura Boulevard, and little does anyone know that a few days after that weekend celebration, the master chef will be turning 47 on his birthday.
Nevertheless, he is tirelessly animated and often in around 5 or 6 a.m. at the restaurant at 11929 Ventura Blvd., at the former Out Take Bistro location around the corner from the CBS Radford Studios lot.
"I try to take a step back because I know I can't be everywhere at the same time, but I'm still very involved," says Saad, who has three restaurants in San Francisco by the age of 25. "I have to learn how to delegate."
He and his wife, Nadia, and a daughter and son, 17 and 14, moved to Encino and he decided to open a place closer to home ("and I love Studio City, so we may even move around here" he says). He fell in love with the location in the vibrant restaurant district which has had the Chop Shop, Sammy's, Crust and Pizza Rev all open to great success recently and within a block of each other.
"I'm thrilled with my staff, we all work very well together," says Saad. He found them mostly on Craig's List, and has 45 employees working there from noon to 11 p.m. cooking every meal from scratch each day.
You may have seen Saad (www.jeffreysaad.com) on TV as host of the hit Cooking Channel series United Tastes of America, which helped inspire his popular book Global Kitchen: Recipes Without Borders. He created Sweet Heat in San Francisco and contributed to many successful restaurants including, Pasta Pomodoro and The Grove. He has been on Next Food Network Star, Chopped All-Stars (Food Network), Grill it! with Bobby Flay (Food Network), The Rachael Ray Show (CBS) and Iron Chef Countdown (Cooking Channel). He attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park New York and graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco after earning a degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management from Iowa State University.
He's also a surfer, loves martial arts and enjoys traveling—all which seems impossible to do with someone who runs a restaurant. But, he permeates the relaxed and easygoing atmosphere that he tries to have at La Ventura.
"I want people to be happy and enjoy a good meal and a cocktail for less than $25," he smiles.
That could include a Duck Confit Mole ($18), Roasted Garlic Guac & Chips ($7) or the Signature Tacos Pastor ($11.50) of "layers of pork marinated and slowly roasted on our vertical rotisserie until perfectly charred on the outside and juicy on the inside, with grilled pineapple salsa.
Is your mouth watering?
"Everything seems to be equally popular, we don't have anything that is ordered much more than anything else," he says.
He has items for vegans, and he's always planning something new for special occasions, take the faux-Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo. On Saturday, May 3 and Monday, May 5, there will be mariachi music from 7 to 9 p.m. and he will serve up a modern interpretation of Mexican street-style carnitas and simple salsas. He will be as authentic as possible, with fresh ingredients, and create a Gringo Platter with spicy hatched chili, spicy cheese, rice and beans and more. Of course, classic Margaritas and Sangria will be concocted as well.
"It will be like what your mom used to make, only better," he says.
From the time he was 13, Saad was cooking up dishes and enjoying how people loved to eat. He has traveled the world studying cuisine all over and tries to incorporate the best of what he's learned in all his recipes.
The layout of the Bistro is the same (the chandelier in the main room is still there), and the back room has a wall of ceramic bulls (with a few more that Nadia found coming in),
He worked his way up from a dishwasher at a greasy diner to being able to serve up his own signature dishes and says, "When I got me hands on a spatula, I never put it down, I just love doing this."
Now L.A. locals can experience all of that themselves.
See the video for more details about what owner and chef Jeffrey Saad has planned for Cinco de Mayo this year.
opened Monday-Sunday 12pm-11pm
11929 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
Phone number (818) 358-3423
Business website laventurarestaurant.com
Also flip the the photo gallery.